Hanks, John

Born: 1802-02-09 Nelson County, Kentucky

Died: 1889-07-01 Decatur, Illinois

Flourished: 1831-03-11 Sangamon County, Illinois

Cousin of Nancy Lincoln, Hanks moved from Kentucky to Little Pigeon Creek, Indiana, where he lived for a time with the Lincolns and met young Abraham Lincoln. He returned to Kentucky in 1826 but moved to Macon County, Illinois, two years later. He convinced Thomas Lincoln to move his family there, and Hanks worked with Abraham Lincoln as a railsplitter. Hanks also accompanied Lincoln on his flatboat trips, although Lincoln later claimed Hanks did not make it all the way to New Orleans. Hanks fought in the Black Hawk War before settling on his own farm. He moved to California in 1850 to take part in the gold rush and did well there, returning to Illinois in 1853. A Democrat, Hanks did not actively take part in Lincoln's political career until 1860, when he attended the state Republican Party convention at Decatur, Illinois, and provided some split rails as an endorsement of Lincoln. This action made him a minor celebrity, and he began selling Lincoln rails from his farm. Following Lincoln's election, Hanks requested a political appointment but did not succeed due to his illiteracy. Despite being 59 years old, Hanks enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War and served as a wagoner in the Twenty-First Illinois Volunteer Regiment until his discharge in 1864.

Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982), 138-39; Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, eds., Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 752.